I know our friend George Parker has an opinion or two about the CEO of WPP, but how did Sorrell get to be one of the most powerful people in the advertising industry?
Here’s a good overview of Sorrell’s background, which is in the news again as he’s currently involved in a pretty nasty lawsuit with some ex-employees:
Borrowing a million pounds, like you do, he set up a business from a one-room rental in London and bought a shell company, Wire & Plastic Products, which made baskets for supermarkets. Rechristened WPP, it was to become the vehicle through which Sorrell became one of the 1980s’ leading acquisition machines, buying up some of Britain’s best-known advertising agencies, marketing groups and public relations companies. It was one of the swiftest multinational creations of the Thatcher years.
Its workaholic boss later put the company’s success down to “10 per cent perspiration, 10 per cent aspiration and 80 per cent luck” but there was more to it than that. Sorrell had a keen eye for spotting undervalued companies. And he loved doing deals. In 1987 he stunned the advertising world by successfully launching a dramatic $566m “hostile” takeover of J Walter Thompson, one of the biggest names in the business and a firm that was 13 times the size of WPP. Two years later, he launched another daring hostile bid to buy Ogilvy & Mather for $825m, which was twice the size of WPP.
Yes, he’s a finance guy, not a creative guy. But as one of the most high-profile, globetrotting people you’ll ever see in this industry, he’s become a guy world leaders and business leaders pay attention to–and a guy you probably don’t want to screw with.
WPP controls JWT, Ogilvy, Y&R, Wunderman, Grey, Uniworld, Mindshare, Hill & Knowlton, The Bravo Group, and many, many others. Will we ever see the day when holding companies lose their dominance?